Air fares out of reach, trains back in favour

Galloping operating costs for airlines have made train travel — if you can manage to get a confirmed ticket — way cheaper than flying even a low-cost carrier (LCC). Now, the only time flying is cheaper is when airlines engage in a price war and offer low, all-inclusive fares during lean travel periods.

A few years back, LCC fares were positioned closer to Rajdhani second AC fare levels. The idea was to convert train passengers into flyers. “There is no comparison between train and airfares now. Operating costs for airlines have shot up tremendously in India over the past two to three years. Today, average airfares start at over Rs 5,000-6,000 while earlier this was as low as Rs 2,500-3,000. Now, except for special offers from airlines, one cannot expect low-priced air tickets,” said Kapil Kaul of the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation.

Travel agents report a massive shift from air travel to trains, leading to a sharp decline in the number of domestic air travellers in 2012 over the previous year. Thanks to the increase in airline costs, there is nothing like a low-fare airline now.

“Malaysian ultra LCC AirAsia is planning to start operations in India by the year-end in collaboration with the Tatas. But given the high-cost environment here — especially jet fuel prices and airport charges in places like Delhi — whether they manage to give low fares or not remains to be seen. Now the only way to get relatively cheap air tickets is to book months in advance as spot fares are sky-high,” said a travel agent.

Airlines say the government must rationalize jet fuel prices if airfares have to be lowered. “Jet fuel prices here for domestic airlines are among the highest in the world. This component alone accounts for over half of our operating cost. Unless this is rationalized, fares cannot go down. Let AirAsia or Captain G R Gopinath start their proposed new LCCs here; they too will need to offer fares at a certain level to survive,” said an airline official.

Published in: on February 27, 2013 at 4:48 pm  Leave a Comment  
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